The leftist Salvadoran president was not at ease in Washington

Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén felt uneasy. And with good reason.

It was obvious that the former guerrilla from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, recently elected his country’s president, was not at ease in Washington last week. He was there because he had to be there.

The occasion was a meeting with his counterparts from Honduras and Guatemala and President Obama, in which supposedly they would look for “solutions” to the humanitarian crisis presented by the 57,000 children who have arrived, unaccompanied, from Central America.

But while Juan Orlando Hernández, a rich coffee merchant who rose to the presidency of Honduras in an election prostituted by a coup d’état supported by the U.S., and Otto Pérez Molina, a retired general blamed by many for crimes committed during the dictatorship of Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, and is now president of Guatemala, arrived two days earlier to the U.S. capital to meet with legislators and grant long interviews to the press, Sánchez Cerén limited himself to complying with the minimum requirements demanded by diplomacy.

He arrived on the very day of the meeting and left as soon as it was over, without making statements or lending himself to the “selfies” and “photo ops” that politicians of all leanings and nationalities seem to enjoy.

No, the leftist Salvadoran president was not at ease in Washington.

After all, only one of those ironies of history — in this case, the tragic exodus of the innocent — could have made Sánchez Cerén swallow hard and participate in a reunion in the capital of the empire that fostered the devastating armed conflicts in Central America in which thousands of his compatriots died and, besides, share a cause with the presidents of Honduras and Guatemala, historical accomplices of Washington and true exponents of everything that he fought by fire and sword for years.

“Sánchez Cerén didn’t want to be drawn into the circus,” says Roberto Alvarenga Lovato, a Salvadoran-American writer and activist. “The diplomatic formalities required that he attend this meeting, but with his acts he demonstrated that he didn’t want to be utilized.”

According to Lovato, it couldn’t be otherwise.

“Hernández, the one from Honduras, is illegitimate, the continuation of a military coup, Obama’s and Hillary’s first, clear proof of the United States’ complicity in provoking the terrible situation in those countries that causes emigration,” says Lovato, co-founder and former executive director of, an online organization for the support of immigrants, which has more than 300,000 affiliates.

“Pérez Molina, the one from Guatemala, is a former general who is drenched in blood. Sánchez Cerén, a school teacher who became a guerrilla commander, does not wish to associate with them.”

Despite their differences, the Central American leaders voiced a common plea to Obama to respect the rights of the children who, even though the White House prefers not to acknowledge it, came to the U.S. to save their lives.

They also urged him to reinvest the billions of dollars that he now spends in a futile attempt to stop the juvenile exodus into relieving the misery and curbing the violence of the gangs and the drug trafficking that are at the root of the problem in Central America and that, in great measure, are the consequence of U.S. policy in the past 30 years.

As we know, compassion is not Obama’s most exceptional virtue. True to his reputation as deporter-in-chief, Obama only promised new expulsions of children and a massive campaign of songs and propaganda that would make Central Americans understand that the children who reach the border will be returned without hesitation.

“It’s as if a boy had escaped from a burning building and they forced him to re-enter it,” a young Guatemalan friend told me. He is undocumented, of course, and, because of his short height and youthful face could pass for one of those teenagers who gather on the United States’ southern border.

“What they’re going to do is deport as many children as they can. So much suffering — and for nothing.”

No, Sánchez Cerén, former guerrilla and recently elected leftist president, was not at ease in Washington. And with good reason.